The Ocean and Coast
Mississippi has 359 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico including many sand beaches and barrier islands that are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Mississippi’s territorial waters extend three nautical miles offshore and cover approximately 600,000 acres.
Marine Conservation Agreements
As of February 2009, The Nature Conservancy had not undertaken formal law, policy, or spatial data analyses related to Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) in Mississippi. As such, we do not have a clear picture of what is legally possible, nor do we have a clear understanding of the ownership and leasing patterns across the coastal landscape and seascape. At this time, organizations wishing to pursue MCAs in Mississippi should undertake site-specific assessments or work with state agency staff to evaluate opportunities statewide.
If organizations pursue MCAs in Mississippi, several local, state, and federal authorizations may be required. The information that follows provides context for and information regarding possible authorization needs.
Submerged Lands and Tidelands
The state of Mississippi owns in public trust the intertidal and subtidal lands below mean high water. Mississippi calls the land between mean low and mean high tide tidelands, and the land below mean low water submerged lands (or submerged waterbottoms). These lands are administered by the Mississippi Secretary of State. Public trust lands may only be sold by act of the legislature for a higher public purpose. Public trust rights include navigation, fishing, recreation, development of mineral resources and sea agriculture, and environmental protection.1
Projects on tidelands and submerged lands require a lease from the Secretary of State, unless they fall under the “General Permit” provisions of DMR. Non-lease uses are generally non-commercial uses by riparian landowners. Most projects require a Standard Lease (maximum term 40 years), but aquaculture projects require an Aquaculture Lease. If the applicant is not the riparian landowner, projects in littoral areas require the riparian landowner's permission. Rents are usually set at fair market value. Revenues go into the Tidelands Trust Fund. After covering administrative costs of the Secretary of State and lost ad valorum tax revenues to local governments, these funds are used for tidelands conservation, enhancement, and education, or for public projects on tidelands. Projects with leases will in most cases need a permit from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, as well.
Shorefront owners may also apply to the Secretary of State for a determination of the pubic trust boundary.
Coastal Zone and Shoreline Development
Mississippi’s coastal zone includes the three coastal counties and all adjacent coastal waters and barrier islands. The Department of Marine Resources is the lead agency for the Mississippi Coastal Program. The Coastal Wetlands Protection Act governs allowable uses in the state’s tidal wetlands. DMR handles permitting, federal consistency review, and the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. Through the Comprehensive Resource Management Plan, DMR provides technical assistance to local governments in managing coastal development. Dredging and beach nourishment programs also operate within DMR.
Any project affecting wetlands or navigable waters must go through the wetlands permitting process. A joint state/federal application should be filed with DMR, and will be reviewed by DMR, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some small, non-commercial projects may be permissible by the DMR alone under a General Permit program.
Under the Coastal Preserves Program, since 1992, DMR has acquired approximately 30,000 acres out of 72,000 acres designated as crucial coastal wetland habitat.
Projects affecting beaches must obtain a wetlands permit, as discussed above. Beach water quality is monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality.
Fish and Wildlife
Coastal fisheries are managed by the Department of Marine Resources. DMR regulates and licenses fishing and shellfishing, seeks to control invasive species, and manages 17 natural oyster reefs for recreational and commercial harvesting. Other fisheries and wildlife issues may be handled by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
1505 Eastover Drive
Jackson, MS 39211-6374
Email: web form
Mississippi has a very large inland and pond-based aquaculture industry. However, aquaculture in coastal waters appears to be more limited. Several authorities are involved in permitting aquaculture operations in Mississippi’s coastal waters. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture issues an aquaculture permit. The Department of Marine Resources issues a wetlands permit. An aquaculture lease from the Secretary of State is required for use of either bottomland or the water column. In addition, water quality permits may be needed from the Department of Environmental Quality.
Applications should be filed with the Department of Agriculture, which will distribute the application to the other state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.2
Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce
P.O. Box 1609
Jackson, MS 39215-1609
Department of Marine Resources
Secretary of State
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) manages water quality issues for coastal waters through its Surface Water Division (SWD). SWD programs include beach monitoring, water system construction loans, watershed management, and nonpoint source pollution control. Permitting is often handled by the Environmental Permits Division. Both divisions are within DEQ’s Office of Pollution Control.
In January 2007, the State of Mississippi submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development its Gulf Region Water and Waste Water Plan to spend $630 million on the redevelopment of water infrastructure following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Pollution Control
P. O. Box 10385
Jackson, MS 39289-0385
1 Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. 2000. Submerged land survey: Mississippi. In Submerged lands survey update 2000, as presented at the 19th Annual International Submerged Lands Management Conference, Newport, Rhode Island, October 1-5. (download pdf, 492k)
2 K.M. Fletcher and G. Weston. (No date.) The Legal and Regulatory Environment: Offshore Aquaculture Permitting Process in the Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program.